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Small Things With Great Love

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

-- Mother Teresa

  Sometimes in the morning I go out into the garden, just to look things over. See what seeds have sprouted up. What flowers have waned. Where there is a bare spot that needs something, or where something has grown completely out of hand and needs to be pruned back. 
   They say in gardening, the best way to do it is the old fashioned way....take a little time, do it by hand. Water everything yourself so you can take a moment to look at each plant and see it--- see what it needs or if it's just doing it's thing.
   The garden will change all year and there will be frustrations and thrills. I love that constant change, but also the familiar rhythm of the garden. As some things fade, other things bloom. It's alive and growing and it makes me happy to tend it.
   In the scheme of things in the wider world, this garden really doesn't mean much. I enjoy it, the animals enjoy it...I hope that when people walk or drive by that they enjoy it. But it's not promoting world peace or doing much more than bringing beauty to the surroundings and keeping us occupied. But then again, maybe that's important in itself?

  "Do small things with great love" Mother Teresa has said. You never know when some small, good hearted thing will become something very large and important. She's a great example of that.

   This quote has been going through my mind a lot lately as I contemplate the changes that will come our way in the months ahead--- especially as I take on a larger portion of my oldest's education and I focus more on my little book. I am forcing myself to slow down and realize that that is ok-- I dont have to do it all right now. And it's a worthwhile thing to collect larkspur seeds for future gardens, to get only as many chores done that get done, to stop and play instead of work work work. Because the work is never done.

   Things may get a little quieter, but no less important. I've been reading some wonderful books lately and I'd love to share them with you! I will get art done too, and I'll share that as well. But I'll be doing plenty of little things as well. And with great love.

Book Review: The Mystery of Art

"The highest form of art is prayer" Jonathan Jackson writes in the opening of his book "The Mystery of Art", and I find myself nodding in agreement.
   Ever since I was a little girl, the way I learned to still my mind, to focus most clearly, and to create was through drawing and creating art.
   Day after day and year after year, I've gone back to that special place that making art creates, and only now as an adult to I understand that what it really is that I've been attracted to is the meditation, the prayerful centeredness of the act of 'making.' and when you open yourself up to it, it becomes something really wonderful, especially when you invite God to join you.
    Of course when I think of 'art' I think of visual art, but what is so interesting about Jackson's book, a new publication from Ancient Faith Publishing, and Orthodox Christian publishing house, is that he explores many types of art.
   Jackson is an actor, and I've honestly never considered the 'prayerfulness' of acting, but Jackson does a wonderful job in his writing in exploring and explaining how any and all acts of creating can become a religious experience. In any art, you as the artist becomes the instrument of creation--- whether you are speaking, painting, writing, sculpting, sewing or thinking.

   He shares a great C.S. Lewis quote: "The first demand of any work of any art makes upon us is to surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (there is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out."

    The best way I've found to approaching this book is to read a little at a time, and then mull it over. There isn't a specific narrative or story to be followed. It's broken up into sections of philosophical elements to mull over-- such as 'art as mystery', 'art as prayer', 'art as belief', 'art as sacrament and 'art as offering' and seems to be meant to be read in small sections to be digested before moving on.
   This book is written with an Orthodox Christian audience in mind, but I think it has an appeal to artists of other faiths as well since the main discussion is so universal.
   In his writing, Jackson ultimately discovers that every person is an artist--- no matter their vocation. We all create in some way. The enduring question to all of us, of course, is are we creating something that adds goodness to the world, or are our motives more self-serving? The meditations offered by Jackson are great ways to examine if what we're creating offers anything of real value and spiritual fruit, or not. 
   According to Jackson, "the role of the artist is to bridge this gap (of the sacred and the profane)  and fill the world with grace."
   All too often, I think, this world is filled with people whose end goal is money, status, power or fame. But if we are constantly looking to 'fill the world with grace' in place of these things....I think our lives and our world, will be much better for it.

  If you'd like to read this book, it can be found in most major book retailers, including Amazon, and through Ancient Faith Publishing.

The Rugs Are Here!!!

   Last week there was a special delivery at my doorstep--- a selection of rugs that made me so thrilled that I had to open up the packaging right then and there--- this had been such a long time coming!

   These rugs are very special to me. Because--- I created the art for them! The whole project began last spring when I was approached by Mark Ford from American Dakota, a small family owned, American made rug company.
   He asked me to create a couple of rustic folk art inspired rug designs and thus "Cabin in the Pines" and "Black Bear Creek" were born!

   These rugs are now appearing in the 2016 catalog for American Dakota and are available to sell retail.
   I am ALSO able to sell the rugs, and have a rug page here on the blog where you can see sizing and prices.

   I am so happy to see this project come to be--- from my painting table to a loom to decorating my home. It's been such fun and I'm proud to have been able to work with such a great company. If you choose to purchase one of these rugs, not only are you supporting my art and my little family, but another American business and family. That is really important to me as an artist sending my art out to be manufactured, and also as a consumer supporting businesses at home.

   These are the designs currently available:
"Black Bear Creek"

"Cabin in the Pines"
   If you see one (or both!) that you'd like to bring into your own home, let me know! I can have the rug of your choice shipped directly to your door! Please see the RUG PAGE for more information, and let me know if you have any questions!~

   Thanks for stopping in today!~

Secrets of a Cottage Garden

    Our garden isn't finished. In fact, it never will be. Like all living things, it will keep growing and changing, new parts will come, old parts will die. Good intentions will go wrong, some things will be a pleasant surprise. The cottage garden, for me, is like a continuous painting project--- and one that I never get tired of.

   I thought today I might share with you a little bit about how I make my garden--- because really, gardening is something that I love and can't help doing. And I'm always looking for the simplest and easiest way to get what I'm looking for--- because I'd rather, literally, stop and smell the roses instead of spending hours pruning them. 

  Roses, you might say, are my weakness. They are the leading ladies of the cottage garden. Of course, what this means too, is there has to be a dependable supporting cast. When you're starting your garden, don't forget the plants that will provide the 'filler' and constant color of your garden. Perfect plants for this are holly, boxwood, hawthorn, and evergreen shrubs and trees. You'll be glad to have them come January when they're the only thing providing color and interest. And they'll give your summer plants a nice lush backdrop from which to shine.

  When it comes to roses, which have the reputation of being prima donnas--- choose wisely. There are plants that are a pain to deal with, and plants that have been bred to be disease resistant and easy to grow. Those are the ones I go for! Look on the tag of the plant to see what attributes it has. Hardy, easy, disease resistant--- these are all good words to look for! And if you want the easiest of the easiest to grow roses--- go for Knock Out Roses. These roses are nearly indestructable, and they flower beautifully. Basically all you do is water them ever so often. They usually come in shades of pink, although sometimes you might see red or yellow.

    Another important aspect of having a lovely cottage garden all growing season long is having plants that are coming into bloom as others fade. Perennials are plants that come back year after year, but have a shorter window of blooming time (usually about a month or two) Annuals are plants that are only alive for that year and will die in the frost. The upside of these plants, however, is that they'll constantly be in bloom until the season is over. A nice mix of both will ensure you've always got blossoms.

  Another important thing to keep in mind is what flowers grow when. If you plant flowers that bloom in spring, early summer, mid summer and autumn, you'll have a constant flow of new flowers coming out.
 Some ideas of plants that bloom at different parts of the season are:

pansies (annuals that will keep blooming)

blue salvia
impatiens (annuals that will keep blooming)
periwinkle (annuals that will keep blooming)

Black eyed susan
zenias (annuals that will keep blooming)
cosmos (annuals that will keep blooming)
marygolds (annuals that will keep blooming)

pansies (annuals that will keep blooming)

And in case you'd like some suggestions these are some of my very favorite garden flowers:

- Blue Salvia: a perennial that is drought resistant, it has beautiful blue/purple spires of flowers that are loved by bees and butterflies. Will just get bigger and heartier as it comes back through the seasons.

- zenias: these flowers are fantastic as they barely need any care--- even just a little bit of water. They like it hot and dry. Plant them somewhere very sunny and honestly, forget about them. Too much water will make them get weird and moldy. 

-Hollyhocks: these are biennuals, so they take two years to flower. But they're worth the wait! Plant the seeds, and the first year they'll be a low mound of green leaves. The next year the mound will get bigger and the tall spires of blooms will show up. Another plant loved by bees and butterflies, and they are so classically 'cottage'. Spread seeds every season, and you'll have a continual supply of plants coming into bloom.

-Mums: These plants will provide a nice lush green backdrop for other plants to shine through the summer, and then will give you gorgeous blooms come fall. A hint though--- they'll start to bud around the height of summer--- CUT THEM BACK. Dont let them bloom in the summer, or they'll get leggy and weird come autumn when you want them to be beautiful. If you cut them down around July 4, by October they'll be nice shaped and ready to burst into bloom, and show off those pumpkins and pansies.

- Cabbage, Kale and Lettuce: Nothing says "Beatrix Potter lives here!" like a row of cabbages, kale or lettuce. I like to plant veggie plants in with garden plants because not only are they pretty, they're practical! Before you use them to make coleslaw, they might as well add some interest to the rose bed, right? They're easy to grow, get huge, add interesting color and at the end of their growing season, you can eat them! What's not to love? They also like the cold so you can plant them early in the spring, or they will last well into late fall after other things have died from cold nights.

   And in closing, as I've probably rambled quite enough--- remember:
Gardening is ongoing and above all, an experiment. There are great growing seasons, and bad ones. Dont take failure personally. We've had summers so hot that not even tomatoes would grow. Or springs so wet that all my zenia seeds rotted and didn't bloom. You learn from what works and what doesn't. And the more you learn, the better you'll be as a gardener. And when you come upon a happy accident of a beautiful bed that is doing well, you'll enjoy it all the more!

Happy Gardening!~

New Painting: Elizabeth the New Martyr

     This weekend I finished such a fun project--- a portrait of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, a Russian Orthodox saint. She's a saint I've gotten lots of requests for, she is meaningful to so many different people. And with my love of all things Old Russia, I thought it was time I tried to make my own rendition of this beloved saint.

  As far as saints go, this Elizabeth is a relatively new one. She was cannonized in the late 90s by the Russian Orthodox Church and was martyred in 1918, less than a hundred years ago. Her story is one of triumph and tragedy, immense wealth and immense humility.

  Born a minor German princess in the mid 19th century, she was a grand daughter of Queen Victoria.
   As a young woman she was engaged and married to Grand Duke Sergei, younger brother of the Tsar of Russia. At their wedding, Elizabeth's younger sister Alix met the tsar's son....Nicholas. They would go on to become Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra, the last reigning Tsar and Tsarina of Russia until WWI.
   Elizabeth converted to her husband's Orthodox faith and was from all accounts a lovely faithful woman and her marriage happy. Sadly, her husband was assassinated in 1905 as social unrest began to bubble up within Russia and royal families, especially the Romanovs, were looked upon as out of touch and held more and more in contempt.

   Her reaction to this terrible event is surprising--- she visited her husband's assassin in jail and offered forgiveness and pleaded with him to repent. She sold all her lavish goods, including a large collection of jewels, and founded a convent, The Mary and Martha Home, in Moscow. She helped the poor, sheltered orphans, and led a simple and devout life.

   War, of course, came to Russia and with it huge changes. The tsar was forced to abdicate and the whole royal family arrested. Elizabeth was later arrested and taken from her convent and held in prison. Her martyrdom came in 1918 when she and her companions were thrown down a mineshaft, and when they did not die--- grenades and burning brush sent down after them. All this to the sound of singing hymns, coming from the darkness of the mine.
   Elizabeth eventually succumbed to the woulds she received during this awful event, and her remains found a few days later. She was later interred in Jerusalem in the Church of Mary Magdalen, a church she and her husband helped build.

  Now, 98 years after her death, this princess turned nun turned martyr now saint is remembered for her compassion and humility. She offered forgiveness in unforgiveable situation, and her faith remained strong. She is such a powerful and inspiring saint, and one that I am happy to have learned a little more about, as an ardent reader of "all things Romanov" myself.

  At the moment I have the original painting AND prints in my etsy shop! Please come have a look, perhaps she is a saint you'd like to add to your home?


Of cats and roses

My "Lady of Shalott" David Austin rose bordered with perennial blue salvia, pansies, and spent tulips.

"Lady of Shalott" roses up close

Our little stone shed-turned-playhouse framed with some salmon colored roses. These were here when we moved in and were such a wonderful surprise!

Our cat Lucy out amongst the salvia. I also planted cabbage and lettuce in this flower bed, I think its neat to mix decorative and useful plants

A shady patch of our garden is home to oak leaf hydrangea, azaleas, some roses, a small Dogwood tree and a while flowering mystery shrub whose name I dont know!

Little Snowflake sitting on the stair ledge just above an Oak Leaf Hydrangea. She was one of our foster babies!

A yellow climbing rose outside the door to the studio

   The garden is awake! This is one of the best times of the year in the garden. The roses are in full bloom, everything is green and lush, and there's been plenty of rain! I am particularly thrilled with how my David Austin rose out front is doing--- I've actually moved it a couple of times trying to find 'that perfect place' for it. And I think she's found her home! This rose--- which is called Lady of Shalott (after the English poem) has the prettiest delicate coral colored blossoms with the sweetest faces. They also keep their color and shape longest when cut, out of all my roses. I'm so in love with this rose that I may have gotten another David Austin for Mother's Day....the flowers are so pretty I get teary eyed. I guess that means I like it very much!

   The kitties have been enjoying their newly lush green world as well, and its not uncommon to find a little pile of fur curled up and sleeping under hydrangea leaves or taking a sip out of a bird bath. And any time we plant something, there is an entire feline committee on stand-by to inspect and sometimes, ah-hem, inaugurate a freshly dug hole if you're not careful ;)

  This garden is wild and rambling, and so is the yard. We've let the lawn go wild, which I think is good because its natural and chemical free, and the most interesting things are popping up in it, like tiny wild strawberries! Our three rabbits also provide plenty of free fertilizer, and its good stuff--- did you know rabbit pellets can be put directly in the garden from the hutch without any rest time? Evidently its gentle stuff and my roses sure seem to love it.

   So that's what is going on with the garden these days....its full of roses and critters ;) just like I like it!

   It will make a wonderful place to sketch this coming weekend for the sketchbook club! If you're local, you're welcome to come! You can find out more HERE.

   Hope you're having a great start to your week, hope its full of pretty flowers and cuddly creatures.